Dead Man Walking
“He's gonna get fired.”
“I'm employed for life!”
Dead Man Walking is the term used for those co-workers of yours who are about to get fired any day now but have no clue as to what's coming. The saddest thing about the phenomenon is that, usually, everybody else in the office already knows the suckers are about to lose their jobs.
Each Dead Man Walking ("DMW") shares certain characteristics. They are all oblivious to their immediate surroundings. They fail to take cues like negative performance reviews and co-worker scowls at face value, instead "blaming the other" for the situation. They are also stubborn and refuse to face reality, telling themselves that "everything is alright," when it clearly isn't.
This being said, there are several distinct variations of DMW. They are discussed below:
Some DMW's walk in a cloud of naivete and innocence, honestly believing that their jobs are secure. They act like the proverbial deer in the headlights when confronted with any evidence that they are under-performing, or that their jobs are at risk.
DMW's In Denial
Another type of DMW consists of those who turn a blind eye to their condition. As alluded to above, this subtype has some inkling of his impending unemployment but fools himself into thinking he is about to get a raise, or even promoted. These types of DMW react with passive-aggressiveness or even downright hostility when confronted with the truth.
A third type of DMW is the blameless victim. They are about to lose their jobs due to facts completely beyond their control, such as the fact that their entire department or division is being shut down. This type of DMW acts as a normal employee in all ways, because that is what he is - except for the fact that "box Friday" is just around the corner for him. Besides being on the verge of losing their jobs, the one thing these DMW's have in common with other DMW's is the fact that they are oblivious to the things that have been going on at their companies (i.e., budget cuts, lay-offs, merger talks, etc.) that would likely threaten their jobs.
Dealing with DMW's
The personal plight of DMW's is so obvious that even Captain Obvious is having trouble coming up with more than one quote about them. However, a more subtle issue is how the coworkers of DMW's should behave. As mentioned above, most coworkers of DMW's know that the DMW's are about to get the axe. So, the question arises, how to handle them?
General Rules for Dealing with All DMW's
It is incredibly awkward having to see someone everyday, knowing that he or she is going to get fired, and also knowing that he or she has no idea of what's in store. To reduce the awkwardness, AVOID EYE-CONTACT AT ALL TIMES. This point cannot be overstated. Do not look the DMW in the face under any circumstances. If you must interact with the DMW on the job, glance over the person's shoulder and stare into space while speaking with him or her.
Another general rule is never, EVER tell the DMW that he is a Dead Man Walking. That is a task only for your boss, or for Human Resources if you work for a big enough company. Breaking this rule is the quickest way to turn yourself into a DMW.
A third general rule is not to speak with other coworkers about a person's DMW status. Not only can this be awkward in and of itself, it invites various risks, such as:
- Finding out from your coworker that you yourself are also a DMW (the only thing worse than being a DMW, is knowing you're a DMW);
- Finding out that your coworker is a DMW (the pinnacle of awkwardness); and
- Having word get back to your boss that you leaked the open secret, thus turning yourself into a DMW.
Dealing with DMW's in Specific Situations
Sometimes the DMW in question is somebody who is quite unpopular. Perhaps he is a workplace hermit or does poor-quality work. Perhaps he has body odour. Whatever the cause, there are times where fair play allows some cat-and-mouse toying with the DMW. Techniques include the following:
- Asking the DMW if he enjoys movies starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon;
- Making sure to talk about the death penalty and death row (in a political context) while in earshot of the DMW;
- Asking the DMW what his dream job would be, and then responding with something like, "if only we all could be given a chance to live our dreams." (WARNING: Say nothing if the DMW says that his current job is his dream job - take evasive action and walk away quickly.)